How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Marilyn Artus (MA): I was doing a huge nationwide art and travel project when COVID-19 struck. I came home and began doing the performances from my living room via livestream. Before COVID, the Her Flag performances (more information on the project below) were just small events in each Capital city of each state that ratified the 19th Amendment. The rainbow is that now through live streaming, my project has hundreds and hundreds of people that watch from all over the country. Through Her Flag, I raise and have been raising awareness about the importance of voting and participating in our democracy. Since the beginning of this project in 2017, I have been featuring the history of women of color in the suffrage fight. You can follow along on social media through @herflag2020.
Denise Duong (DD): This is by far the strangest head space we have all been in, as well as an odd one to navigate. Not only are we in a pandemic, but also a cultural revolution, and I’m also five months pregnant! Going from being a girl who hopped around the world most of the year to being quarantined and now pregnant in a world full of heaviness, it makes my head spin. My work is a very personal narrative that reflects on my inner voice along with the outside elements. I have found that working with my pen and inks have been quite therapeutic and it feels like I’m regurgitating all the thoughts swirling around in my head through the quick motions and splatters. I also find that slow large drawings and intricacies of my other works are doing the work of processing what is going on and makes me contemplate my role currently and also makes me reflect on my past experiences.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
MA: In June of 2019 I started traveling to all 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment into law, in order of ratification. I came off the road at the end of February and have been working on Her Flag from home just utilizing social media more intensively. I got back on the road on June 24th and drove to West Virginia where I met the artist who created the stripe to represent West Virginia in a hotel conference room and sewed on her stripe to the flag via live stream. The event was not open to the public, but at least I got to be with her in the capital city and show her the massive project she collaborated with me and 35 other artists on. I brought all my own food for the trip and only went in to get gas and into the hotel where I live streamed from. I am calling it quarantine travel. My first performance outside of my living room was in my hometown outside with tons of room when I sewed the Oklahoma stripe onto Her Flag. It went really well. I know we kept everybody safe.
DD: I just finished a couple of murals. One in Oklahoma City and the other in Durham, NC. Currently working on a body of work for a show in September at JRB Art at the Elms in Oklahoma City. Due to social distancing, I’ve switched gears quite a bit for this show. There was going to be an installation in the gallery, but due to the inability to have traffic in the gallery, I’ve chosen to stick with a collection of paintings and drawings which have a heavy reflection on this year. I finished a public sculptural art piece with my partner and fellow artist Gabriel Friedman right before the pandemic consumed our cities in March, which really highlighted the importance of public art.
What advice and tips can you give to artists during this time?
MA: We have opportunities to take a breath and look at what we are doing. Being at home so much can be really great for artists to really get some amazing creating done.
DD: It seems like during this time, artists are either extremely expressive and driven, or have a block. This is an incredible time to create. Either it be a form of therapy, activism, reflection, etc. Just keep your practice up. Even if it’s just doodling while you are on the phone. There are so many galleries, organizations, and other artists that are keeping the art alive in our communities. Get involved in any way you can and stay involved in any way you can. Just remember, this is all a new phase in life, temporary or not temporary… art is strength. Keep going!
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
MA: In so many ways COVID-19 hasn’t changed what I am doing. I just have modified and kept going. So many Zoom meetings! I did have one of the first art openings at a small gallery and local maker shop in OKC. I was outside in an open-air tent for the opening with my mask on and it was so amazing to see friends and talk to new people. I took over the large windows in the gallery and had a drive by experience for people that don’t feel comfortable going in and parts of the exhibition were online as well. Over all, I am glad I had the opening and I feel like we modified enough to be as safe as possible.
DD: I have a tiny gallery in the Paseo Arts District in Oklahoma City which I have tried to use to help keep artists going and keep some artistic energy out there. Trying to bring some positivity in some of this heaviness. A few months ago, Gabriel Friedman and I made a Plinko board and we sold tickets for puck plays and proceeds benefited the artists. We tried to keep up a pretend Paseo Art Walk by having virtual shows. I think that how the community is highlighting artists is wonderful and shopping local seems to be in full effect.
More information about Marilyn Artus’s ongoing project, Her Flag:
Her Flag is a nationwide art and travel project created by artist Marilyn Artus to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 72 years-long nonviolent struggle that kicked off voting for women in the United States.
Marilyn is collaborating with a woman artist from each of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment into law to create a huge 18 x 26 foot flag. Each artist created artwork inspired by this anniversary, which Marilyn then turned into a stripe. Marilyn is currently traveling in order of ratification to each state and in a public performance, stitching each stripe onto Her Flag.
The culmination will be a new flag sewn as a thank you and a love letter to the states that ratified the 19th Amendment into law.
On June 13, Denise Duong’s stripe was sewn onto the flag to recognize Oklahoma’s ratification.
To read more about Her Flag project, please visit: https://www.herflag.com/
About the artists:
Marilyn Artus is a mixed media artist who explores the female experience within her art making practice. She has exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States. Marilyn has also been a curator, commercial artist, burlesque promoter, event planner, and female artist mentor. She has created shows that explore the suffragist era in the U.S., paid tribute to an assortment of women in American history, and most recently been using the American flag as a vehicle for feminist exploration.
Find her on Instagram @marilynartus
I was born and raised in Oklahoma City, OK by two weirdo Vietnamese parents. Along with them was my wonderfully caring uncle, and my partner–in–crime sister and 2 cousins. As soon as I was able to figure out ways to leave home, I was out and about exploring the cracks and crannies of this crazy world. I attended art school in Chicago, and my wandering soul set me out to do what I do best, create things and explore. I have a deep love for nature, adventure, exploration, and working with my hands. These things influence me in everything that I do. Textures and using different processes entertain me. People entertain me. The world entertains me. I entertain myself. Cheers to yesterday, today, and tomorrow!
Find her on Instagram @lildfromokc
And on Twitter @deniseduong